Objectives Despite prevention efforts over the past several decades, drywall installers in the US remain at risk for work-related falls from elevation. These workers are challenging to study from an epidemiologic perspective. The purpose of this study was to describe patterns in drywall installers’ rates of work-related injury from falls from elevation and event circumstances.
Methods Using data from the Carpenters Trusts of Western Washington and Washington State Department of Labour and Industries, we defined a cohort of 5,073 union drywall carpenters, their 37 million union work hours in Washington State, and their workers’ compensation claims from 1989–2008. Individual-level data were linked using an encrypted identifier. Rates of work-related injury were calculated using Poisson regression. Injury event narratives provided additional details.
Results Falls from elevation made up 7.5% (n = 454/6,066) of work-related injuries among drywall installers. Rates of injury from falls from elevation declined from 7.8 per 200,000 worker-hours in 1989 to 1.1 per 200,000 worker-hours in 2008. Rates varied little by age and time in the union, except among 9% of events in which drywall material was a contributing factor; workers with 10 + union years had lower rates than their less tenured counterparts. Brief narratives consistently identified surfaces from which workers fell, commonly scaffolds (33%), ladders (21%) and stilts (13%). Worker task, described in 17.5% of events, often included drywall hanging, drilling/screwing or moving material. Information was lacking on height fallen, PPE use, work speed and influence of other workers.
Conclusions In addition to continued efforts to prevent work-related falls from scaffolds and ladders, particular attention should be paid to the prevention of drywall-handling-related falls among less experienced workers who may be at greater risk due to greater exposure. Improvements in the consistency of narrative data elements may enhance efforts to identify risk factors or evaluate regulatory changes or interventions.
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